How to Swim with Dolphins

By: Chelle Koster Walton

ADD TO FAVORITES
Few animals are associated more with Florida than the dolphin. Find out where to see, feed, touch, swim with, paint with and befriend these playful creatures.

Merina’s skin felt like my clear gel keyboard wrist rest – cool, sleek and smooth. When she shook my hand with her fin and gazed into my eyes with her friendly smile, I melted right there on the docks of the Dolphin Research Center in the Florida Keys.

Some say a dolphin feels slick like wet rubber, others say it feels smooth like a peeled hard-boiled egg. But what’s most impressive is the way you feel when you touch, interact with or even see a dolphin. It’s hard to do it justice with words, but “jubilant” and “awed” are common reactions.

Except for the gator, few animals are more associated with Florida than the dolphin. It would be hard to imagine a place where there were so many dolphin, and so many ways to interact with them, either in aquariums or in the sea.

Here are 20 of the best ways to swim and play with dolphins. (Note: Some dolphin encounters have age restrictions, so check ahead before you make family plans.)

1. Key West: Fury Water Adventures
Meet dolphin in their native habitat: wild and free in Key West’s back country. On the tour, knowledgeable guides dole out fun facts about dolphin lifestyles as you watch them frolic in the boat’s wake. The tour also includes a chance to snorkel the Keys’ famous coral reefs.

2. Key West: Dancing Dolphin Spirit Charters
Be the dolphin on Capt. Victoria’s Dolphin Day for Humans charter. Specializing in “children of all ages,” the wilderness boat tour includes a snorkel tow on a “dolphin water massage board.” Wild dolphin often join “human dolphin” on their voyage into dolphinity.

3. Islamorada: Theater of the Sea
One of the highlights to this all-day Islamorada dolphin destination is a short boat ride on a “bottomless boat,” where dolphin perform in the open water at the boat’s center while passengers applaud from seats around the arena. Besides watching dolphin behavior, swimming with dolphin and a snorkeling cruise into dolphin habitat, the 62-year-old facility offers sea lion experiences, a beach, snorkeling with tropical fish and gardens filled with parrots, sea turtles and other native and exotic creatures.

4. Marathon: Dolphin Research Center
Paint with a dolphin? DRC in Marathon adds an artistic twist to the dolphin experience. Participants collaborate with one of its 22 dolphins – some of them descendants of the 1963 Flipper movie cast – to create a colorfully abstract T-shirt that the dolphin decorates with water-based paints and a paintbrush it holds in its mouth. This and other encounter programs help the facility cognition and behavior, provide programs to military personnel and their families, work with people with special needs, and develop top educational programs for students of all ages.

5. Marathon: Hawks Cay Resort
Stay where dolphin live at this seaside resort. The Dolphin Connection has designed programs for kids and adults to interact with a pod of friendly bottlenose dolphins in the resort’s ocean fed lagoon. Whether you choose to jump in the water for a hands-on dolphin encounter, learn how to train dolphins or stand on the dock and admire fantastic aerial tricks, Dolphin Connection can tailor a specific program to meet your needs either individually or in a group setting. 

6. Key Largo: Island Dolphin Care
No child is left out from the dolphin experience in Key Largo, and this place makes sure. It was developed specifically so kids with special needs could undergo the healing pleasure of a dolphin’s company. Programs range from half-day meet-and-greets to five-day “Dolphin Time-Outs.”

7. Key Largo: Dolphin Cove
Tiny tots can enjoy this dolphin experience. Participants ages 3 years and up and at least 4-feet-6-inches tall can participate on their own (if they do not meet the height requirement, they must have a participating adult to hold them in the water). The Shallow Water Dolphin Encounter is a waist-deep dolphin interaction program where you can meet the dolphins up close and personal, while standing comfortably in waist deep water. You can experience interactive behaviors like body rubs, handshakes or kisses. All interaction is guided by a dolphin trainer, and one-on-one contact is guaranteed.

8. Miami: Miami Seaquarium
Here at the home of TV’s “Flipper” and erstwhile filming site for the show, you can make like Sandy and Bud and befriend a dolphin in either the Dolphin Encounter or the Dolphin Odyssey. Both are group experiences, last two hours and are prefaced with a learning experience. Don’t miss the Flipper Dolphin Show at this 50-plus-year-old classic Miami attraction.

9. Southeast Florida: Dolphin World
If you’re in MiamiFort LauderdaleKey West or West Palm Beach and are looking for an easy, no-fuss dolphin adventure, book with this tour company, which specializes in dolphin excursions. Leave the driving and arrangements to Dolphin World. Your only worry: How to smile bigger than a dolphin in the photos that can be purchased at the end.

10. Everglades City: Everglades Area Tours
When it comes to getting close to wild dolphin, kayaking is the way to go. Everglades Area Tours makes quick work of getting you out into the raw nature of the Everglades by combining the use of horsepower and manpower. A mother boat transports participants to prime spots where they can paddle with the tides and currents back to point A. Along the way, a naturalist informs as birds, fish, manatees and dolphin put on a show. Trips can be customized for camping on deserted beaches, fishing or whatever your family pleases.

11. Fort Myers Beach: GAEA Guides
Estero Bay, the section of Intracoastal Waterway that separates Fort Myers Beach from the mainland, is known for its wild dolphin population. Chances are nearly 100 percent that a foray into the sheltered waters, part of the 100-mile Great Calusa Blueway paddling trail, will reward with a dolphin sighting. Connie Langmann, owner of GAEA Guides, takes kayakers – first-time or experienced – into these dolphinated estuary waters for an intimate paddle among the resident pod.

12. Fort Pierce: Florida Dolphin Watch
The East Coast’s Indian River is home to hundreds of dolphin that seek the shelter of the Intracoastal Waterway to feed and breed. This two-hour trip out of Fort Pierce is limited to six people for a leisurely, educational experience entertained by dolphin 90 percent of the time. Longer customized tours are available and can include lunch on a deserted island.

13. Tampa: The Florida Aquarium’s Wild Dolphin EcoTour
Tampa Bay boasts more than 400 dolphin, and Tampa’s Florida Aquarium takes you to where they and hundreds of birds live. Board a comfortable 72-foot catamaran for an hour-and-a-half narrated excursion.

14. Orlando: SeaWorld Adventure Park
It starts with engaging shows where you get all wet if you’re sitting in the Splash Zone. From there, experiences with dolphin grow more intimate by the minute. Visit the Dolphin Nursery to learn how mom and calf interact. Sign up for the Dolphin Up-Close Tour, a walking tour experience they’ll be immediately texting their friends back home about. At SeaWorld’s waterpark, Aquatica, two awesome, enclosed tube slides send you speeding through a lively lagoon filled with playful, black-and-white Commerson’s dolphin.

15. Orlando: Discovery Cove
Want dolphin all to yourself? For a more exclusive interface, reserve your day across the street from SeaWorld at Discovery Cove. At this private, all-inclusive day resort, a limited number of people are admitted per day to play on the beach and snorkel in the fish-filled waterways. Guests are divided into small groups to swim with the dolphin for 30 minutes after a 10-minute conservation-minded orientation. During the swim, participants get their picture taken kissing a dolphin and score a fin-tow. This resort also gives guests the opportunity to swim with dolphins, rays, tropical fish and hand-feed exotic birds as well as participate in trainer-for-a-day programs.

16. Orlando: Florida Dolphin Tours
You’re in Orlando, but you’re craving a quick dolphin getaway to the Keys. These are the people to see for a two-day dolphin side-trip that includes round-trip transportation, accommodations, a two-hour one-on-one dolphin program, an airboat ride through the Everglades and shopping in Miami's Bayside District. If you’d rather snorkel with dolphin in the open, the tour operators can get you there.

17. Space Coast: Kayak tours
Adventure Kayak of Cocoa Beach, A Day Away Kayaking Tours and the Brevard Zoo all lead paddling excursions into the dolphin-full waters of the Space Coast’s Indian River and Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. The ever-curious dolphin often come so close you can touch them.

18. Flagler County: Marineland Dolphin Adventure
Marineland Dolphin Adventure is the world’s first oceanarium. Packed with history, the site opened in 1938 as Marine Studios, an underwater filming location for motion pictures. A modernized and updated park is now focused on meaningful animal interactions, and offers multiple programs that immerse guests in the world of dolphins. Simply observe their grace and beauty in their 1.3-million-gallon habitat, or interact with them in the water. Your encounter can last anywhere from three minutes to several days. Programs and kids’ day camps target every age group, and weddings and other event bookings are also available.

19. Destin: Glass Bottom Boat Dolphin Cruise
Climb aboard the Destin-based, 80-foot Southern Star and prepare to do a lot of swivel-necking. Dolphin love jumping in the boat’s wake, but you never know where exactly they’ll surface next. You can sometimes catch them in their most playful mode, when the males are showing off for the females or tossing fish to mates. It’s better than a trained dolphin show because it’s spontaneous and unpredictable. You can bring your camera, but it often seems they’re laughing at your attempts to capture them. Kids especially love the ride because besides being able to see dolphin above and below the water, they get to drive the boat.

20. Panama City Beach: Gulf World Marine Park
Once you’ve seen its daily Dolphin Show, you’ll be hooked and ready to jump right in with these beauties. You’re in luck because in Panama City Beach, Gulf World offers various programs such as Trainer For a Day, Dolphin Day Camp, Meet and Greet, Snooze with Sea Life and Swim with the Dolphins, where you can see, swim and kiss the dolphins.

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36 comments
Sheila
Sheila May 3, 2010 12:00 AM
Can anyone make a recommendation for a 8th grade graduation presnet that includes swimming with dolphins? Thanks!!
is there any where closer then orlando that we can swimm with the dolphins we are in Vero
Hi Terry,
Unfortunately, Orlando -- about one hour 42 minutes from Vero -- is your closest bet to swim with the dolphins. Of course right by Vero (in Sebastian)you can take a boat trip with either River Queen Cruises or Capt. Christy Lenz "Casual Cruisin" and you'll SEE dolphins -- but I know, it isn't it the same.
Thanks for visiting!
Lauren

I would love to go kayaking and see Manatee and Dolphins. Where would you recommend? We are staying in Orlando but have a rental car and could drive. Thanks.
May 21-28th we will be in sarasota fla. we would like to swim with dolphins. where to go please.
Hi Renee,
You can swim with dolphins at Discovery Cove (http://www.discoverycove.com/ ), about two hours from Sarasota. You might also enjoy a visit to Mote Marine Laboratoryâs Aquarium (http://www.mote.org/ ) in Sarasota. Plus, the Sarasota Bay Explorers offer a variety of eco boat tours (that depart from Mote) which are very cool.
Lauren Tjaden, VISIT FLORIDA Beaches and Adventure Insider
Looking for a great place for my 6y/o, 8y/o and 11y/o to swim with the dolphins next week. We are staying on St. Pete Beach. Don't mind driving a little to get to a good place.
Please help guide us. Thanks!
Hi Judie,
You can enjoy dolphin tours in many of Florida's waters-- where you boat out and view dolphins in the wild -- but if you're talking about actually swimming with them, you're limited to the choices in this article.
Mapquest says you're two hours from Orlando, where Discovery Cove is located-- and which always gets rave reviews! It's the closest option.
I hope you go. I did, and had a blast.
Lauren Tjaden
VISIT FLORIDA Beaches and Adventure Insider

You CAN get in the water with dolphins in this area! At the Mote Aquarium in Clearwater! Two different programs! Here is the website info! http://www.seewinter.com/things-to-do/animal-interactions/cma-wade-programs
I want to go swimming with the dolphins me and my husband live in mississippi we want to drive to do it where would be the closest place to go?
Hi Amanda,
See the little map on the right hand side of your screen? The red balloons are all locations in Florida where you can play with dolphins! Hit the little red balloon closest to your route into the state, and contact info and address, etc, will pop up about it.
Have a great time -- I LOVED my dolphin swim.
Lauren Tjaden
VISIT FLORIDA Beaches and Adventure Insider
Hi I'm visiting navarro beach and was wondering if there is anywhere close to swim with dolphins we have a car but don't want to drive super far. Any help or advise. Thanks liz
Hi Liz,
Navarre's beach is sweet!
At the Gulfarium in Destin (about 35 minutes from Navarre) you can enjoy a 'Dolphin Meet and Greet.' (http://www.gulfarium.com/meetgreet.html) You get to pet a dolphin, feed it, and have it perform a behavior, but it's not exactly a dolphin swim. That's the only place close I know of -- but you might speak with Navarre's visitor's services to make sure. Have fun!
Lauren
Is there any swimming with dolphins in fort Myers ?
Hi Trang,
I am so sorry, but I do not believe there is any place you can swim with dolphins in Fort Myers. Here is a link to Fort Myer's visitor's services' website. You can call them or write them to find out for sure: http://fortmyers-sanibel.com/ . I WOULD highly recommend the dolphin tour via waverunner with Holiday Watersports (ocean side by the Pink Shell). We saw TONS of dolphins on our tour, just a few feet away.
i hope you have a great trip.
Lauren Tjaden
VISIT FLORIDA Beaches and Adventure Insider
where is best place if any to swim with dolphins in northwest fl,,destin, pensacola????
Hi Bennaj,
Usually you can go to the Gulfarium in Fort Walton Beach, but it is closed through May for renovations. As far as I am aware, Panama City Beach is the next closest option -- but I would call the visitor's services of your destination to make sure. They will have the latest updates on what is available.
Lauren Tjaden
VISIT FLORIDA Beaches and Adventure Insider
i love this place if i had the money i would go there everyday i love the sea animales every where no matter where they are jus yesterday i helped a sea turtle get recude cause it had a hook in its mounth and the fishing line was also wraped around her kneck i wish could live with these sea animales
Is there anywhere close to st Petersburg that allows you to swim with dolphins?
Hi Tim,
You can swim with dolphins, as well as meet Winter-the-dolphin, star of the movie 'Dolphin Tale,' at Clearwater Marine Aquarium, which is pretty close to St. Petersburg.
Have fun.
Lauren Tjaden
VISIT FLORIDA Beaches and Adventure Insider
We are coming to Pensacola on Friday and are looking for something fun to do with the family. We were thinking swimming with the dolphins would be great but I can't find somewhere online to be able to do so. Is there?
What about a shell island or something?
Hi, me and my friends are dying to swim with dolphins and are staying at watercolor. Is there anywhere close? Thanks!
Hi Blakeley,
Ooooh, Watercolor is sweet!!
Mapquest says Panama City Beach is only about 35 minutes away. There, you'll find Gulf World Marine Park. It offers various programs such as Trainer For a Day, Dolphin Day Camp, Meet and Greet, Snooze with Sea Life and Swim with the Dolphins, where you can see, swim and kiss the dolphins.
Have fun!
Lauren Tjaden
VISIT FLORIDA Beaches and Adventure Insider
Hi I'm Austin I am going to be visting ameila island at the Ritzs Carolton on July 23-July 27 and I was woundering if there is a place on Amelia island were I can swim with dolphins
Hi Austin,
You'' like Amelia LOTS.
The closest place for you to swim with dolphins is Marineland by St. Augustine. It's about an hour and a half away from Amelia Island. You might make a day trip-- you know, do a dolphin swim, check out St. Augustine, the oldest city in the country, maybe visit the Fountain of Youth.
Have fun!
Lauren Tjaden
VISIT FLORIDA Beaches and Adventure Insider
I will be in siesta key the first week of Oct. where is the closest place to swim with the dolphins?
Hi Summer,
The closest place for you to get in the water with a dolphin is Clearwater Marine Aquarium, home of Winter-the-Dolphin, star of the movie 'Dolphin Tale.' (http://seewinter.com/) It's about an hour and a half from Siesta Key -- which by the way, is a WONDERFUL beach. Lauren Tjaden
VISIT FLORIDA Beaches and Adventure Insider
Hi, Img going to Destin Florida in early october and was wondering if there were any places around destin that allow swimming with dolphins and if there are month restrictions? thanks
Hi Bethany,
Try the Gulfarium: http://www.gulfarium.com/ Here's info about their 'Dolphin Splash Encounter.'
They say, "Enter the dolphins world for an unforgettable experience as you get up close and personal with these sleek and graceful animals. From a submerged platform, you will play, touch, and learn about our Atlantic bottlenose dolphins alongside a Gulfarium trainer. An informative and educational pre-encounter session will prepare you for your interactive program."
Have fun!
Lauren Tjaden
VISIT FLORIDA beaches and Adventure Insider
My girlfriend an I are staying at Vista cay resort where can we swim with dolphins
Hi Tom,
If I am correct that you are staying in Orlando, you can swim (nearby) with dolphins in Discovery Cove: www.discoverycove.com/
Have fun!
Lauren Tjaden
VISIT FLORIDA Beaches and Adventure Insider
Hey! I'll be visiting my boyfriends parents in Sebastian Florida for the holidays. We'll be there from Dec.20th to Jan.1st. Is there any place to swim with dolphins during that time I want to surprise my bf for an Xmas gift. Its a dream of his
Hi Kate,
Are you the best girlfriend ever, or what?
I believe the closest place for you to enjoy a dolphin swim is in Discovery Cove in Orlando. I looked it up on Mapquest and it's about an hour and a half-- so it's a ways but do-able.
Have a wonderful holiday.
Lauren Tjaden
VISIT FLORIDA Beaches and Adventure INsider
Hi, I have got an old postcard from the 50's or 60's of a bathing beauty hugging a dolphin, with signature. Can you let me know if there is anyone who can help me identify who the lady is?.. thankyou